Jenna and I were at the gas station getting slushies when I saw the red bike leaning against the light post. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but then I saw a man standing next to the bike. He placed a sign onto the handle bars, and even though I couldn’t read very well yet, I knew what it said: FREE BIKE. NEEDS A HOME. I pushed open the glass door and ran over to the man.
“This bike is free?” I couldn’t believe someone was giving away a free bike.
The man squinted at me, tilting his head to the side like he couldn’t quite understand me. I was deaf and knew my speaking wasn’t as good as my signing. But I wasn’t old enough yet to feel self-conscious about my speaking voice, and instead repeated myself.
“Is this bike free?”
I stared closely at his lips, and he nodded. He was talking too fast for me to follow. I was only able to catch the words daughter, oil, and kickstand. I don’t know when Jenna appeared next to me, but when I looked over again, she was shoving two slushies into my hands so that she could talk to the man. She started interpreting. It’s considered rude to speak in front of a deaf person without interpreting the conversation, but I think it’s rude to live in St. Augustine, where the largest deaf population in Florida lives and not know sign language.
“Can we have this bike?” Jenna asked.
“Yeah.” The man took the sign off. “I don’t need it.” He folded the paper in half, then half again, and stuck it into his pocket. “It needs some oil and a new kickstand.”
Jenna looked at me trying to decide something. “Don’t tell Mom.”
“I won’t!” I said. I’ve never had a bike before, not because my family couldn’t afford it, but because my parents were afraid that because I was deaf I’d ride into the street and straight into a car.
The man touched the brim of his hat, a nervous habit and opened his mouth. I knew he wanted to say something, but then he closed it again.
“Thanks,” Jenna said. “We’ll take good care of it.”
“I’ve always wanted a bike,” I added.
Jenna took the lead and walked it home while I walked beside her. Jenna was the type of person who always followed the rules our parents gave us. We weren’t supposed to stay outside past 9 p.m., when it was too dark to see, and we weren’t supposed to play with our friends before we finished our homework. But sometimes, when it was a clear, crisp night, Jenna would walk into my room, which was on the first floor, and we’d sneak out my open window and lay on the grass, side-by-side, not saying anything. I wondered if she could see that some of the stars were brighter than others, and I wondered if her seeing that even mattered. Those moments where the world forced everyone to be silent made me feel like, for just a moment, Jenna and I weren’t that different.
“Where are we gonna put the bike?” I said. The slushies were melting and turning into a soupy blue puddle in the cup.
Jenna shrugged. “We’ll find a spot.” She was silent and then stopped walking. “I think that was McKayla’s dad.”
McKayla was the girl who went to Jenna’s hearing school who killed herself. Jenna wasn’t friends with McKayla, but she knew who she was. When she told me about McKayla, I wondered what would happen if someone died in a room by themselves, and how someone would find them, and she said, probably the smell.
I stopped. “I don’t want this bike.”
“I just don’t want it.”
“We can fix the kickstand, and we can oil it.”
“No,” I said. “I should listen to Mom.”
“This bike isn’t going to kill you,” she said. “Don’t you want to learn how to ride?
I thought about it and then sat down on the sidewalk. I noticed all the cracks in the concrete and the bits of moss growing out of them. I set the slushies on the sidewalk, the cups sweating in the heat.
“You know what?” Jenna looked behind. I could tell she wanted to say more but wondered if she didn’t know the right signs for her words. Instead, she set the bike down, the back wheel still spinning, and sat next to me, with the handle bar resting in her lap. It wasn’t a fancy bike by any means, but it had a small silver bell, slightly rusted at the edges. Her fingers trailed across the lever of the bell, and she pressed it a few times.
“At least that still works,” she signed.
Hannah Fell is an editor and writer who lives in Jacksonville, Florida. This is her first fiction publication.